By Carol Vaughn — Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority staff and board members were joined by dignitaries Wednesday, June 29, at Sawmill Park in Accomac to celebrate receiving an unprecedented $12.3 million from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
The money will help the authority build 269 miles of new fiber and connect more than 11,000 additional homes and businesses to the broadband network, at a total project cost of $15.6 million.
John Reiter, chairman of the ESVBA board of directors, said the effort to get broadband on the Shore started some 15 years ago.
“We now cover a little bit more than half the Shore; this will get us up to about 75 to 80 percent,” he said.
“Great strides have been made,” said Bryan Horn, VDHCD director.
Virginia since 2017 has invested more than $797 million, with more than $1.1 billion in matching funds, in broadband access, resulting in 307,000 connections, he said.
Still, around 210,000 still do not have access to broadband, he said.
“We’ve learned that access to broadband has become a necessity,” Horn said.
“The focus of the community as a whole has been to get broadband to everyone,” said Del. Rob Bloxom, noting he and Sen. Lynwood Lewis worked to get the state grants made available to the ESVBA.
“One reason it succeeded is that the ESVBA is one of two broadband authorities in the state that is profitable,” he said.
“This is what government looks like when it works,” said Lewis.
“We haven’t seen telecommunications growth like this on the Eastern Shore in decades,” said Robert Bridgham, ESVBA executive director. He credited the board of directors and staff for their efforts.
Construction of the new fiber includes 14 areas, seven each in Accomack and Northampton counties. Work will start at the Shore’s northern end, going south, and also at the southern end, going north, Bridgham said, noting the ESVBA this month will roll out a new website with a section dedicated to information about the project.